Biotech Scientists Deserve Our Respect

In Audio, Biotechnology by Cindy

The 2013 World Food Prize symposium was probably the most controversial ever with the spotlight on biotechnology but while there may have been a handful of protestors outside the more than 1200 attendees from countries all over the globe seemed to largely be in agreement about the importance of genetically modified crops for the future of our world.

wfp13-2Scientists from two agricultural biotech companies – Monsanto and Syngenta – were honored for their work in the field, but it was Monsanto’s Dr. Robert Fraley who was the focus of the GMO critics. During a press conference with the three laureates, Fraley was asked why he thought Monsanto was the target for critics. “Sometimes that’s frustrating,” said Fraley. “I always assume that means we’ve been really successful and people see us as a leader and that’s part of the responsibility that goes with it.”

Syngenta’s Mary Dell Chilton said she didn’t really understand why Monsanto is the main target of critics but she believes the industry as a whole needs to “have good communications with the public about the safety” of the technology.

The third laureate, Marc Van Montagu of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium, said he believes that the critics have singled out Monsanto as the “villain” because it works better than talking about the industry as a whole. “If you start gossiping about a person, people always start believing gossip – humanity is like that,” he said.

One comment from Dr. Fraley really sticks with me. He said that, considering the thousands of studies and decades of research that have gone into the development of the GMO crops on the market, one of the “rumors” that “hurts him the most” is about their safety. It was as if he was talking about someone calling his baby ugly!

No matter how much people may love to hate Monsanto as a company, it is very important to realize that the motivations of the majority of scientists who have pioneered the work of genetically-modified crops are sincere. It’s not for money, fame or fortune or to help a company sell more product. They truly see their work as a way to help humanity and and for that they deserve our respect and recognition.

Listen to how the laureates answered some tough questions from the media here: World Food Prize Laureates press conference

CommonGround Wisconsin Dishes on Dairy

In Activism, Farming, Food, Guest Blogger by Cathryn

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer and blogger Kim Bremmer.

students with calf_8130 (2)What a fun morning in Alma Center, Wisconsin with two buses full of high school students, teachers and the school nutritionist for an informal discussion about food!  Pfaffway Farm was our wonderful host and is home to over 200 milking cows and youngstock.  Kristin Pfaff wanted to host an event about modern food production, showcase an actual farm, and be able to answer any questions the students might have about modern farming today.

The students were given donated milk, cheese curds and Craisins as they were seated on straw bale benches.  A questionaire was handed out earlier in the week at school and our discussion was focused accordingly around their answers.

We answered questions about the overall safety of food today and how technology has changed over time.  We spent a lot of time discussing GMO’s and handed out the Common Ground info-graph to everyone.  Many of the kids had concerns about the safety of GMO’s today and it was quite apparent  the influence that main stream media has. We had examples of different foods and talked at length about food labels and what they mean.  “Organic”, “All Natural”, “Hormone Free”, “Antibiotic Free” were all covered as well as r-BST, animal care concerns, and salmonella.

It was a lively group of young consumers with a lot of great questions and great discussion.  Even the adults in the group all commented on how much they learned.  Our final message was about keeping an open mind and always asking an expert when it comes to where your food comes from…the farmers and ranchers who are producing food for their own families and yours.  And more information can always be found at!

Pfaff Family _8122 (2)

Corn Farmers at Global Farmer Roundtable

In Audio, Biotechnology, Farming, International by Cindy

tatt-groupSince 2006, Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT) has been bringing farmers from different countries together during World Food Prize week in Des Moines to attend the event and share their knowledge and experiences with each other at the Global Farmer Roundtable. This year there were 16 farmers from 14 countries at the Roundtable, including Wisconsin farmer Jim Zimmerman who is chairman of the National Corn Growers Association Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team. Jim is pictured here (back row, second from right) with some of his fellow roundtablers.

Jim told us it was really interesting to spend the week with his fellow farmers around the globe. “There’s a lot of differences, but there’s also a lot of similarities,” Jim said, noting that he was very honored to be nominated and chosen to take part in the event. “Any time that you can participate in an international event like this, it’s a very good learning process.” Interview with Jim Zimmerman

wfp-pamNCGA Chairwoman Pam Johnson of Iowa had a seat at the global roundtable in 2010 and she was happy to reconnect with some of her fellow alumni during this year’s World Food Prize symposium. “There were 20 of us from all over the world,” she said. “We’re all still working and engaged in agriculture in some way to be a leader and to explain why it is biotechnology is so important as a tool for food security.”

Pam was very pleased to see the focus on agricultural biotechnology at World Food Prize this year with the winners all being scientists who have pioneered its development. “Biotechnology is size neutral, it’s good for everyone,” she said, adding that World Food Prize is a great place “for the personal stories and the truth to get out.” Interview with Pam Johnson

2013 TATT Global Farmer Roundtable photos

Smoke and Mirrors Business Approach

In General by Mark

smoke and mirrorsBig Oil should be in the business of magic considering their recent success with smoke and mirrors regarding the changing role of petroleum and ethanol in the United States. Their virtuosity at deception, illusions, and insubstantial explanations is unrivaled.

This highly profitable and clever global industry, and their well-paid minions, continues to feed the public a regular diet of misinformation with the finesse of a Civil War solider loading cannon with a ram.

I challenge you to scan some of the information below and walk away thinking that American Ethanol is a bad idea.

The United States will shortly surpass Saudi Arabia as the largest crude oil supplier when natural gas liquids and biofuels are taken into account. U.S. liquids production is expected to reach 12.1 million barrels a day, which is 300,000 barrels a day higher than sand land. Ethanol’s role in this transformation should not be taken lightly.

Our gasoline supply is now about 10% ethanol, displacing 462 million barrels of imported oil last year alone, according to Bob Dinneen of the Renewable Fuels Association. The ethanol industry now churns out more than 13 billion gallons of the biofuel while supporting more than 380,000 jobs and adding more than $43.4 billion to the gross domestic product.

Perhaps one of the biggest fabrications is the anti-ethanol faction telling the public we don’t need renewable fuels anymore given new oil extraction technology, better mileage vehicles and slack public demand. Does anybody really think world demand for transportation fuel will stay this low?

Roubini Global Economics notes in a recent report the U.S. is still vulnerable to oil price fluctuations and all the economic chaos that brings. “Heavy oil dependence still renders the country highly vulnerable to price fluctuations in the short-to-medium term, particularly as economic growth — and fuel demand – recovers.”

A report issued last month concluded that the United States’ rigid dependence on oil to fuel cars and trucks meant that Americans kept buying the stuff over the past decade, even as prices rose, at a cost of $1.2 trillion in additional federal debt.

And finally, the U.S. leads the world in advanced-biofuel development, accounting for more than two-thirds of ventures worldwide, according to a report from Navigant Research; While North America is No. 1 in terms of demand and investment. Here is a novel thought…why don’t we try going with our strengths for once, and ethanol appears to be a big one.




A Bitter Rant with Bitter Consequences

In Activism, Biotechnology, Farming, Food by Cathryn

Daily news stories rail against attempts by the foodie elite to dictate the diets of Main Street Americans. From parents protesting school lunch menus to New Yorkers rallying in defense of the Big Gulp, average citizens stand firmly in support of their right to make decisions and ardently defend their personal freedoms.

Yet, with carefully crafted theories and a plethora of plausible-yet-false facts, New York Times writer Mark Bittman gets away with forcing his theories about the redistribution of wealth, land and scrapping the basic ideals of the right to property and freedom of choice. He wants Americans to buy into his supposed “paradigm shift,” a regressive jump back to a pre-specialization of labor economy, and therefore aide in his effort to dictate diets not just to Americans but also to the rest of the world.

Bittman’s bitter tirade represents not only an agenda-driven, slanted view of modern agriculture heavily reliant upon idealized imagery but also an ongoing intellectual trend toward a world of pseudo-imperialism that would allow cultural dictators to rule over Americans and the international community alike. Displeased with how a dispersion of power and innovation has left their theoretical musings impotent, Bittman and his self-aggrandizing elitist posse cunningly plot to play on fear of the unknown, of all things “big,” of change, to gain support which, once firmly garnered, they would use to create their own utopia of the urban and urbane literati.

Know that this utopia does not take into account the realities of life most Americans face. It does not account for a lack of land, a lack of time or even a climate lacking the conditions needed to actually grow a crop. It does not account for land ownership, the ability of either farmers or consumers to make choices or the economic reality that those who grow food and those who purchase it know intimately.

While he hits on many touching topics, invoking the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised and the unjustly treated, he does these groups no substantial good. In forming his fix for a system he knows little about, he ignores the deeper issues surrounding food waste and productivity. He ignores personal choice and takes the idea of food security for granted in a way which early Americans never possibly could.

So, stand up! If each of us rallies against these covert attacks on the freedoms which make our country and our lives great as hard as we stand up in defense of their more obvious counterparts, we can make a difference. Theory and idealism have a place, but they do not put food on the table when they fail to account for reality and value the rights of individuals.

Tell the foodie elites like Bittman to close the doors on their intellectual imperialist dinner party. Tell them Main Street refuses to accept their invitation.

How One Cattleman Views Corn

In Ethanol, International, Livestock by Cindy

corn-couserWe’ve highlighted Bill Couser of Couser Cattle Company several times on this blog but this week was the first time I had the opportunity to meet and spend some quality time with this great guy and his fabulous wife and son during the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Roundtable.

The Couser operation has been a stop for the TATT Roundtable pretty much since it started in 2006 and while you would think the visit would focus on cattle, it’s really more about corn and getting more out of every kernel. “It’s no different than a barrel of crude. We don’t just get gasoline from a barrel of crude. We take it apart and get many different things,” he said. “When we look at corn, we can feed it, we can take it to ethanol plants, we can sell it domestically, we can sell it abroad.”

As one of the founders of Lincolnway Ethanol plant in Nevada, Bill is really excited about the cellulosic project with DuPont using corn residue. “We’ve got the residue there and if we manage it correctly, we have a new cash crop,” he said. Interview with Bill Couser

Bill put together a little powerpoint presentation that shows the multiplier effect of a single acre of corn going to an ethanol plant. When he figured that final amount corn was $7 a bushel and it added up to over $12,000 per acre. But even at $3, it’s still nearly $8,000. Watch the video to see how he determines that.

2013 TATT Global Farmer Roundtable photos

Meaningful Act Tells a Bigger Story

In Events, General by Mark

I didn’t know Kyle Hendrix but I wish I had. Nor do I know Jake Moore, the young man who recently set up a moving tribute to his fellow farmer who passed away too young from cancer. Moore recently arranged a fitting recognition for his best friend, Hendrix (31) that lined up dozens of tractors and combines along the route to the cemetery.

The wordless act of placing the steel behemoths along the road spoke volumes about their friendship. It also made a meaningful statement about how rural communities still rally around each other in a time of need. The old fashioned barn-raising of years past may be gone but the spirit lingers.

My guess is that much of the same farm machinery shown in Matt Rubel’s spectacular photos will also be seen harvesting Hendrix’s crop in the days ahead.  So Godspeed  Kyle and a big thanks to Moore for reminding us all of the value of friendship and community, and Rubel for capturing the reminder in an indelible way.

Newspaper’s Credibility At Issue

In American Ethanol, Biofuels, Blogroll, Corny News, Ethanol, Farm Bill, Farming, feed, Food, Food Prices, Media, Policy, Politics by Mark

In 36 years of being directly involved in agriculture and the issues that make it so…interesting, frustrating, rewarding, and painful…I have only seen one positive story written about the issues effecting the profession, especially ethanol, in the Chicago Tribune. I remain convinced to this day that it was a mistake that slipped by editors and that the cub reporter responsible is driving a cab in the Loop and speaking in tongues.

I think it is ok to say this Windy City pub never met a farm policy or ethanol issue they didn’t like to bash, facts aside. Apparently farmers are immune to the whims of business considerations like making enough to pay the bills and plant another crop. Why else would the Trib opine that farmers are getting more for their corn after a 25 year economic drought that saw farmers getting $2 to $2.50 a bushel regardless of real world cost or demand? (Let alone make such comments in the wake of prices just dropping 40 percent).

So, following their direction, I guess all of you farmers can get off your combines and retire. Apparently you have spent your entire life, not to mention several generations, involved in the most under appreciated hobby in history. No more production of food, feed, or fiber. No more ethanol fuel because we are just going to continue to depend on prickly and dangerous oil producing nations for their finite black gold.

On a more serious note, I think the Tribune needs to be called on the carpet for the sham they have been selling to the public for years that they have a pro-business/pro-jobs position.

Despite dozens of third party experts bringing them information backed by science that exposes the errors in their thinking the Trib, especially its editorial writers, remain steadfast in their spewing of misinformation and loathing of ethanol despite its emergence as a critical economic engine in much of the U.S. Are these folks not suspicious or troubled at all by the millions of dollars being spent by the petroleum industry in recent years to damage the reputation of ethanol. One of the tenants of good journalism is to follow the money in trying to understand societal issues. Clearly Goliath is trying to squash David and somebody should be asking why.

Here are a few of the factual perversions in their latest diatribe:

  • Farmers are not planting as much corn as possible. In fact we are 20 million acres shy of planting the acres we did in the 1920s.
  • The Trib notes we use 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol. Actually we use the equivalent of only 27% of the crop because only the starch from the corn kernel is used to make ethanol. The protein for livestock feed is concentrated, easier to transport and a high value product.
  • Blaming corn for higher meat prices is also off base. Declining domestic meat consumption and the outrageous cost of transportation of all food products to market – thank you big oil – has something to do with that.
  • Plant diseases and pests are nothing new. Farmers deal with them all the time and do so very well thank you. Goss’s wilt that you reference touches only 10% of the corn crop, and is far from being devastating, unless of course you fall in the 10%.
  • And did you actually criticize crop insurance in one breath while also intimating we should take away a farmer’s ability to choose what to plant? That will make the kids want to return to the farm business.

Stop Frivolous Lawsuits

In Ethanol by Cindy

lawsuitsThis week, the oil industry filed a lawsuit over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Again. Seems like they are always filing a lawsuit over the RFS or E15 or something to do with ethanol.

The American Petroleum Institute sued the EPA in March 2010 right after the final rule for the RFS was finally published. “They have sued EPA over implementation of the RFS before and been told that their case has no merit,” said Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen. “But the oil companies have more money than God and they are spending that on lawyers.”

Dinneen calls the lawsuit frivolous. “I view it as a lawsuit in search of a problem,” he said, noting that “the API was just using the courtroom for a press release.” The oil industry is challenging the RFS volume requirements for 2013, but Dinneen notes that the biofuels industrty is on-track to meet the requirements either by actual production or RINs generation.

Note that they are suing the federal government, which means it costs taxpayer dollars to deal with it. Frivolous lawsuits are non-essential and should be shutdown.

Farming is Big in Any Language

In Farming, International by Cindy

basf-farming“Farming, the Biggest Job on Earth” is the tag line of a European campaign for agriculture by BASF Corporation which is hitting the United States now on Facebook. It’s also very true.

I had the pleasure this past week of being able to attend BASF’s global press conference with nearly 100 other agricultural journalists from ten countries, right after being in Argentina with over 150 from 30 countries. Coming up is the World Food Prize and Global Farmers Roundtable, which brings together representatives from all parts of the agriculture industry. The languages are different, the politics are often at odds, but the goal of feeding people sustainably is the same in every country.

Farming is such a big job that it requires lots of help – from new hybrids and crop protection products to precision technology and bigger equipment for planting and harvesting. Researchers, engineers, extension agents, and even the ag media are all part of this big job called farming.

Farming is the oldest profession, a noble endeavor and hard work. Any way you look at it, it’s a big job and arguably the biggest job on Earth.